“The Metal Bowl”
by Miranda July
from the September 4, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

I‘ve only ever known Miranda July as a filmmaker, and not one I know well. However, she has been publishing stories for over a decade and a couple of years ago she published her debut novel, The First Bad Man. In 2006 and 2007 she published a couple of stories in The New Yorker, “Something That Needs Nothing” (September 18, 2006) and “Roy Spivey” (June 11, 2007); I was reading the magazine regularly back then, but I do not remember these stories, so I might have missed them entirely. Since those two stories, she has published a number of pieces for the magazine, but “The Metal Bowl” is her first piece of “New Yorker fiction” in just over a decade.

Please feel free to comment below. I look forward to comments about “The Metal Bowl” and the rest of July’s work!

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By | 2017-08-28T11:31:01+00:00 August 28th, 2017|Categories: Miranda July, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. David August 28, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Trevor, a small correction: July contributed a piece to the 2014 fiction issue as a part of the “Old Flames” theme.

  2. Julian Wyllie August 29, 2017 at 11:58 am

    I must say I really liked this story. I think the passage below summarizes the style: “My plan was to park on the street and walk into the mall, get the sheet, and go. By not parking in the parking garage, I would outwit the psychology of the mall designers who wanted you to sever ties with the outside world. But walking in off the street was disorienting. I entered through Bloomingdale’s and had to wade through the store; it was like pushing through coats to enter Narnia. Once I made it into the mall, I had no idea where I was. It took me a long time even to find a map, then I traced my finger back and forth between You Are Here and the Low Cost Luxury Sheets Kiosk to memorize my path. The man standing next to me took a picture of the map and then trekked on, studying his phone. Pretty clever. As I walked, I glanced sideways at his tan, brawny body and floppy brown hair, just to confirm.”

    It’s DFW-esque to me without the footnotes, like the stuff he did at Harper’s. With that said some of the story is teetering on bizarre and surreal. The scene about her ex-boyfriend and a doctor was quite punchy. Furthermore the initial scene about her stint in adult amateur films was nicely done. It’s familiar to anyone who’s seen “Hot Girls Wanted.”

    Later we learn of the title’s symbol but we only get a hint at its future importance. For the time being readers face the suggestion that the props uses for the filming are like “an obstacle course” and that the men filming her become inhuman and even ghost-like. We get the question of if they’ll notice her nervousness and stop filming, and we get the conflict of her not wanting to stop because she wants the money to leave the ex-boyfriend. There are also her short interactions with women that are interesting, like the one who checks off what she’s done in the filming and just let’s out an “O.K., we got that.” We wonder if our protagonist has anyone who’s an ally that can see what’s going on with her in her head. And if even a fellow woman is distant, who will be there for her? I think she’s just looking for someone to understand, even if no one does anything about it directly. Just a wink or a nod might do it, but that doesn’t come here…Later we get the aftermath of what it’s like to expose one’s body to the internet. It occurred in the early 2000s and she hasn’t been recognized much aside from a couple people, but that one thing dominates her existence, and it makes sense. She exposed herself physically but we as readers are exposed to her holistically. Notice this: “The amateur sex video was like a seed I had planted in my youth; it would always sustain me.”

  3. Paul August 29, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    Julian writes “It’s DFW-esque to me without the footnotes, like the stuff he did at Harper’s.” That seems to be saying that DFW’s writings in Harpers don’t contain extensive footnotes. But, in reality, DFW’s writings in Harper’s contain very extensive footnotes. I think the New Yorker would probably make DFW remove the footnotes. The New Yorker never seems to contain footnotes. An aside in a New Yorker essay is always in the main text, with parentheses, rather than footnoted.

  4. Dennis Lang August 29, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Speaking of DFW, this is a total aside. Not sure what specific “Harpers” pieces you’re referencing. I’m thinking of his collections of nonfiction (I believe two volumes that included Harpers’ reprints) where the footnotes almost seemed to outpace the main text! DFW digging deeper and deeper. First time I encountered it reminded of an online article filled with links taking the reader down new trails intended to amplify points of the text. Quite interesting. Have no idea how this approach could be accomplished parenthetically.

  5. Julian Wyllie August 29, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    @Paul and @Dennis…When I said it was “DFW-esque” I was referring specifically to the passage I quoted in my first paragraph. The stories that DFW wrote about the Illinois State Fair and a cruise ship in the 90s (also compiled into a book) is what I am referencing. I am saying that one specific passage, where Miranda July talks about the banality and confusion of finding yourself at the mall, is something DFW did (more extensively) with footnotes. Hence I said, “It’s DFW-esque, without the footnotes.” It wasn’t a comment on the entire story, just a piece of it. I understand that when people reference things not everyone will see it the same. It’s just my personal interpretation to one portion of one paragraph. Overall I though this was a really good piece. Personally fits my taste more than the usual New Yorker fiction.

  6. Dennis Lang August 30, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks Julian. Understood. Yup, I recall the state fair and cruise ship pieces from the collected nonfiction volumes. Just received the 9/04 “New Yorker” looking forward to the story. (Not familiar with Miranda July other than her very cool name!)

  7. David August 31, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    As I was with the Groff story last week, I find myself back on the fence again this week. There is no doubt that July is a good writer and there are a lot of descriptive passages in the story I quite like. But it is hard at times to get past the fact that the character is a bit annoying and the situation feels like it is hyped up to seem scandalous or a daring subject to discuss. The worries this woman has in general – about how to reveal a long-kept secret from her husband that she thinks she should have told him a long ago and her worry about possibly taking steps towards being unfaithful with the neighbour – are ones that seem very familiar in form. The story also seems to have a traditional sort of happy ending (pardon the play on words) with the husband not seeming to be bothered at all. But just what is the deal on this woman only being able to enjoy sex by imagining that she is someone watching her porn film? That just seems perverse for the sake of being perverse and makes her look very odd. I guess my conclusion from reading this is that July is a very good writer, but the story does not quite live up to that level.

  8. Ellen September 2, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    What is DFW referring to?

  9. Paul September 3, 2017 at 8:20 am

    I interpret the short story as being an illusion to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. The title is obviously similar, and I think a large purpose of the piece is to interpret Sylvia Plath’s depression and imagery in the contemporary context.

  10. Paul September 3, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Sorry, “illusion” should of course be “allusion” but please do keep in mind The Bell Jar.

  11. Melinda September 3, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    I think this story is about a woman approaching middle age and experiencing/dreading the inevitable “vanishing” act. For better or worse, she’s no longer viewed as a sexual being and is mourning that lost identity. When making the porn movie, she was young, innocent, attractive and noticed by men during and after the movie. The movie was exciting, scandalous, a turn-on. Now, she can’t even find that identity when she lies to her husband and stays overnight with her neighbor. Instead, both men, husband and neighbor, view her behavior as tame.
    The metal bowl: the main character is self-absorbed, empty. The bowl is the lifeless receptacle for the man’s enjoyment. A connection?

  12. Diana September 3, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    Ellen – DFW is writer David Foster Wallace.

  13. Ellen September 3, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Thank you, Diana.

  14. Julian Wyllie September 4, 2017 at 9:44 am

    @Paul, I hadn’t thought of The Bell Jar allusion but it’s a brilliant one and I’m betting it’s spot on. Apologies also to @Ellen for not spelling out David Foster Wallace. I was having trouble fitting my comment’s full text into the box without my web page freaking out when my original comment was longer.

  15. Marsha Krassner September 4, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    I don’t often post to this site, though I read it regularly, and enjoy the comments. However, the comments on this story gave me pause and forced me to respond: I hated this story, hated her telling her young son that she had her period and that the sheets were bloody (WHO DOES THAT??), and just hated her self-absorption. I couldn’t find anything redeeming about the storyline or the character. It seemed design to shock, and while I don’t think that a good story has to have a happy ending, I found it totally pointless.

  16. Arleen McCallum September 7, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Marsha,
    I agree with your view of this story completely. I also hate the fact that the wife tells her husband about her totally embarrassing and regrettable porn flick. Shocking for shock sake seems like pretty cheap effort to me.

  17. David September 7, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    Julian, if you are having the same problem posting that I have been having since the last site update, here is a “Mookse hack” I figured out. The problem I have is if the comment is too log the “Post Comment” button scrolls off the bottom of the page to be hidden by the box at the bottom of the page. The way to get the “Post Comment” button to reappear is fairly simple. When you are finished typing your comment, just add a dozen or more extra blank lines by hitting the enter key. Then use the backspace key to delete all those extra lines and the “Post Comment” button should scroll back into view again. Magic! :-)

  18. Ken September 10, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Interesting that many of the responses above were not about the story itself–which seems fitting because I found this very elusive, askew. I enjoy it when a writer takes stock melodrama and twists it, and what David would call “very familiar in form” I would argue IS deliberately so but then twisted a half turn through her cool, quirky, slanted view point. Similarly, I didn’t feel the “oh this is about anxiety/anomie” feeling I often get. Instead, her tone is so “cool” and her turns of phrase, changes of mind so quirky (I hate that word but can’t think of a better one) that I kept feeling a bit “shaken” and pleasantly so (like a good earthquake that harms no one and is more like being on a wave as a mild L.A. tremor can be).

  19. Greg September 11, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Julian – Thank you for highlighting that great passage…I will definitely be thinking of it in my upcoming trips to the mall!

    Melinda – This part of your post really made the story make sense for me:

    “The metal bowl: the main character is self-absorbed, empty. The bowl is the lifeless receptacle for the man’s enjoyment. A connection?”

    David – Thanks for the technical tip….I will use it to post this!

    Ken – You have reminded me that TONE and STYLE do make so much of a difference in a story!

  20. mehbe September 16, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Way late…

    Liked it. I only wish it had gone on longer. A final short section giving some bits of information regarding how the big reveal affected the characters the next day (and perhaps even later) could have made for a better ending, I think.

    One dumb question made me stumble while reading: how could the narrator see the neighbor waving in the darkness, if there was no moon, no electricity? I can’t tell if that’s an “oops” or if it is just me being too literal-minded.

    By the way, speaking of literal-minded, the first thing that comes to mind when I see “DFW” is Dallas-Fort Worth. Just for fun, I checked, and it is also what Google sees first.

  21. Madwomanintheattic September 25, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Gonna teach it, in part for the shock value, in part because it’s delicious. At 82, I admit that like many NYer stories it grossed me out, but this is first one that also made me laugh out loud.

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